My mother, when she was dying, said to me, “There are no wrong answers, Kris.”
She was speaking from the vantage point of someone who has nothing left to lose. Someone with the luxury of looking back on a life filled with worry about making the right choices and realizing, in the end, most of those choices become irrelevant.
I was torn between staying at her bedside and going back to Chicago to take care of my kids. I felt I did not have a choice. My kids needed me. I was the glue in our household. But my mother needed me also.
Recently, I was worrying about the right job, the right parenting, the right financial and life decisions. As I’m sure many of you do. Few of us are immune to trying to game the system for the best results.
If you’ve not read the book, it’s about four characters who strike out to find cheese (which represents happiness and fulfillment). They find a spot where cheese awaits them each day. One day, the cheese is no longer there. Two of the characters set out immediately in search of new cheese. The other two keep returning to the same spot, angry their cheese is gone. The rest of the book is about their ability to adapt or not.
I have never been very good at the art of staying put. I tend to want to act when things are shifting around me—sometimes before things are shifting around me. And yet, despite the moral of “Who Moved My Cheese?”, sometimes waiting is not a bad option. Until life shows us a direction. Until our gut feeling kicks in to give us a clue as to the wise move.
I remember, just out of college, driving my very temperamental old car to visit friends at my alma mater. On the drive back to my parents’ house, the car broke down on the turnpike.
As steam escaped from the hood and trucks whizzed by, I considered my options. I was a young twenty-something alone on the side of the highway in the days before cell phones were prevalent. In the middle of a rural area. And it would be dark within the next hour.
I’m sure many people would have waited for a state trooper. But that could have taken hours and a lot of good luck. And who knows who else would have decided to show up? Possibly less welcome company.
I ran across the turnpike, climbed a barbed wire fence (ouch) and jumped into the cornfield below. As I jogged through the corn, I finally hit a country road. Following it, I was chased by a large dog which I fortunately outran. I finally came upon a house and knocked on the door. The woman who came to the door would not open it but talked to me through the screen.
Her husband was a state trooper. And he was at the family party in the backyard. He was able to call his buddies and tell them the approximate location of my car. He then walked me back down the road and through the field to get to it.
Was it fun, my little adventure? Not really. The barbed wire, dog and suspicious woman were not my idea of a house party.
And don’t think it was lost on me that the first house I happened upon was a state trooper’s home. What are the chances of that? And of me outrunning a German shepherd?
I think back on my mother’s response to me as I despaired over which of my loved ones took precedence.
There are no wrong answers.
I feel the weight of her words through the years since. They reverberate in my head, almost daily. At the moment, I did not realize she was telling me something I needed to carry with me for the rest of my time here. I’m not sure if she realized it either. But, in retrospect, those words carry a gravitas very few others have for me.
I was raised to worry. And it didn’t take me long to figure out that action is the antidote to it.
We can sit in the car and wait to be rescued. Sure. Nothing wrong with that, if we’re willing to accept that what may come along might not be rescue but something less appetizing.
Or, we can endure some short-term, temporary pain—barbed wire, mean dogs—and strike out to influence the ultimate outcome.
My gut told me to act. I listened. If it had said otherwise, I still would have listened.
There are no wrong answers. They all lead us somewhere—and maybe even to the same ultimate destination.
But the quality of the journey is at stake.
I have been rescued. It is rare that it provides you with the same solid feeling that rescuing yourself does. It’s a wonderful feeling while it lasts but for me, the better feeling is knowing I can rescue myself. Repeated rescues by others breed passivity and a lack of confidence.
At least in me.
I’ll be straight with you. There are days I pray to be rescued from whatever it is I’m facing. And I mean it, wholeheartedly.
But I have learned to act. To be grateful when I do, even if I wait a bit too long.
My journey has been the better for it.